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Waking Nightmares : Japanese Horror as a Lens for Teaching Cultural Values

Presentation author(s)

Keegan Lekus ’21, Arlington, Virginia

Majors: Japanese; Anthropology


The popularity of Japanese culture across the world has grown dramatically in recent years, leading to a rise in its presence as part of a global popular culture. It has impacted many genres and types of media, and Japanese horror is one of the best known examples of this. Different types of Japanese horror within folklore and legends allow for the exploration of Japanese cultural values and beliefs, when examined from an anthropological point of view.

This presentation will explore a few of those horror stories in order to gain insight into their original intent, allowing for comparison to modern issues, concerns, and takes on similar concepts. More specifically, I will explore the use of Japanese horror video games and the evolution of yōkai, kami, yūrei, and other similar characters of Japanese lore. Yōkai and other such creatures feature heavily in Japanese lore, horror, and culture as a whole, making them an essential part of study. Their existence is central to study of Japanese and Japan as a whole, but also serves as a descriptor of the global human experience, making them a perfect device for studying horror as an aspect of life (Foster 2015, 96-97).

This research project is based primarily on examples of media to be discussed here: literary research and conducting participant observation of Japanese horror games in order to better understand the patterns within them. Based on this, I have found that three themes in particular run through all of these pieces of horror: spirituality, isolation, and horror as a reflection of reality. Through these lenses, we can look at horror as it applies to Japanese culture and, on a larger scale, as it applies to life as a whole.


Jennifer Esperanza and Susan Furukawa

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